Hartford, Conn. ( Associated Press) — While trying to decide whether to seek a fourth term in the Connecticut House of Representatives, Rep. Joe de la Cruz ran the question to his wife, whom he jokingly refers to as his attorney and financial advisor.
While Tammy de la Cruz didn’t want to discourage her husband of 51 years from walking away from the part-time job she’s come to love, she admitted that it didn’t make financial sense for her to run again in November.
When Democrat Joe de la Cruz announced in February that he did not seek re-election, Democrat Joe de la Cruz said, “he didn’t even need the retirement planner to use a calculator to do the math.” “The $30,000 we make a year to do this fantastic job that all we really care about is not enough to actually live. It’s not enough to really retire.”
Lawmakers in other states, often with part-time “civilian” legislatures, have raised similar complaints. In Oregon, where the basic salary is about $33,000 a year, three female state representatives announced in March that they were not seeking re-election because they were actually working full-time to support their families on part-time pay. Can’t take risks. He described the situation as “unstable” in his joint resignation letter.
Connecticut legislators haven’t seen their basic salary increase to $28,000 in 21 years.
Although it varies by state how legislative pay is adjusted, bills increasing legislator pay were proposed this year in several states, including Connecticut, Georgia, Oregon and New Mexico, the nation’s only unpaid legislature. Is. So far the bills have faltered as some lawmakers fear to rank voters by approving their own pay increases.
It’s also unclear whether higher wages eventually lead to more diverse legislatures, something proponents of wage increases say is at risk. A 2016 study published in the American Political Science Review It was determined that there was “surprisingly little empirical evidence” that raising the salaries of politicians would encourage more working class people to run for political office. The study found that higher salaries “do not make the political office more attractive to workers; they also make it more attractive to professionals who already earn higher salaries.”
Arturo Vargas, CEO of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officers, said he believes the low pay, coupled with threats and picketing to some lawmakers and their families, has been met over issues such as COVID-19 regulations, which are minor. will discourage the people of the means. run. And that often means people of color.
“This makes it more challenging for people who don’t have a lot of free time and need to rely on income to be able to do their public service,” he said. “And that makes it a profession that tends to be limited to the rich. And the rich in this country tend to be more white than people of color.”
In Washington, Democratic Sen. Mona Das, a child of immigrants from India who was first elected in 2018, recently announced this on Facebook. That she is not seeking re-election. Part of the reason, she said, is the difficulty she has had in meeting her financial obligations on state Senate salaries. Senators in Washington earn $56,881 per day per year to offset the cost of living in session of the legislature. This year it increased from $120 a day to $185 a day, while wages increased to $57,876 as of July 1.
According to the National Convention of State Legislatures, this year, about 71% of state legislators are white, 9% black, 6% Hispanic and 2% Asian or Hawaiian. Legislative chambers remain male-dominated on average. Nationally, around 29% of state legislators are women, up from around 25% five years ago.
There are about 1,600 Millennial and Gen Z individuals serving in state legislatures and Congress across the country, and the Millennial Action Project said that number has grown in recent years. Reggie Paros, the chief program officer of the nonpartisan organization that supports legislators and members of Congress born after 1980, said young lawmakers would be in the workforce long enough to establish the financial stability needed for a low-paying legislative job. are not.
“That financial constraint is one of the biggest struggles to get into public office,” Paros said.
Political polarization is another potential obstacle for new participants.
Peverill Squire, a professor of political science at the University of Missouri, said, “I think it becomes difficult for many people to argue that they should put themselves in political turmoil that costs their families a great deal.” might.” ,
His research into how and why the legislature changes over time has found “greater diversity over a range of different dimensions” in recent years. For example, in Oregon, women held the majority of seats in the state’s House of Representatives for the first time in 2021.
“But that change,” he added, “is probably going to be more difficult to achieve in the future, if indeed, the compensation that is often given for legislative services lags behind those who have been employed for years of their work. Most of the people who will need support during this period are themselves and their families.”
When the union sheet metal worker, de la Cruz, leaves office, he is told that there will be no construction workers employed in the Connecticut General Assembly, no one cares who worked as a cashier at Walmart or an attendant at a gas station. Is. He argues that it is important to represent those voices of the “common man” in the state capitol.
“It’s a big concern of mine,” de la Cruz said. “Regular people, like regular working people, they don’t see the value for them in other working people… They don’t understand that my voice … is close to a voice that they’re going to keep.”
Connecticut Representative Bob Godfrey, a 17-term Democrat from Danbury who has proposed legislation raising wages for at least five years, asked a plumber, construction assembly line worker and a meter reader to accompany him in the House during his early days. Remembered to serve. Godfrey, who relies on his legislative salary and Social Security to pay his bills, said he fears a lack of blue-collar workers in Connecticut “policing the affluent.”
“We don’t look like the state,” he said.
In New Mexico, a Senate panel this year backed a proposed constitutional amendment To provide salaries to legislators who currently take a daily stipend of about $165 for travel to and during legislative sessions. Democratic Sen. Katie Duhigg of Albuquerque argued that a salary would “really expand the universe of people who are able to serve,” noting that the legislature is “largely wealthy and retired.” But action on the proposal was postponed indefinitely.
Earlier this year in Alaska, lawmakers rejected a plan Which would have increased his annual base salary from $50,400 to $64,000. It hasn’t been changed since 2010. But that same proposal would have set their daily limit of $100 for expenses such as food and accommodation, and their daily $307 per day for receipts required for claims. Some legislators complained that $100 would not be enough to cover the cost of living in the state capital, Juno, during the session.
Mike Shaver, a Republican from Wasilla, Alaska, expressed concern about the impact of lower wages in a letter to the State Officers Compensation Commission, which proposed a revised pay and per day plan.
“If there is no good compensation package,” he wrote, “how can we get decent public servants who are not rich, retired or who have the luxury of a spouse with enough job to support someone by being a legislator? is?”
Associated Press writer Rachel La Corte in Olympia, Washington; Morgan Lee in Santa Fe, New Mexico; Andrew Selsky in Salem, Oregon; and Becky Bohrer in Juno, Alaska, contributed to this report.